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The film industry offers a diverse collection of technical, creative, and managerial roles. Completing a film degree provides students with a broad foundational understanding and opportunities to specialize in directing, producing, cinematography, visual effects, and more. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, producers and directors earn a median yearly salary of $85,320, and technical roles earn about $58,230 annually.

Undergraduate programs are a standard length of four years, and master’s programs take about two years to complete. Across all institutions, yearly tuition and required fees averaged $14,688 for undergraduate and $20,513 for graduate programs.

How to Choose a Film Program

Choose your area of study

The film industry employs a wide range of professionals to fulfill skilled positions. Educational and career goals play a significant role in selecting the appropriate program and study tract, and it’s important to understand where you want your education to take you.

Film degree programs typically focus on film or across film, television, and other media studies. The most common degree programs are:

  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in film studies: A BFA in film studies involves more structured and concentrated study in film and media studies with fewer classes outside the department to gain deep understanding and in-depth training. Graduates are highly specialized and prepared to pursue careers as directors, cinematographers, lighting or camera technicians, producers, and more.
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) in film studies: This program offers students a broader education in film within liberal arts studies. Wider elective choices provide an understanding of media art forms within social, cultural, and political contexts that prepare students for careers in research and criticism. Graduates may progress to roles such as film critics, programmers and curators, archivists, and educators.
  • Bachelor of Science (BS) in digital filmmaking: In digital filmmaking, students gain a technical and practical understanding of editing, sound design, cinematography, and other film and media production techniques. Graduates work as visual effects artists, editors, cinematographers, and sound engineers.
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in film studies: In this program, students choose an area of research in which they develop a critical and theoretical understanding of film and media. MFA graduates often pursue continuing research in a doctorate program or careers in curating and archiving, media management, producers, creative executives, and more.

Film is a vast field with diverse career options. Many degree programs offer specializations after students complete foundation courses to help them advance in their preferred specialization. These specialties include animation, scriptwriting and editing, documentary filmmaking, directing, and cinematography.

Research schools and programs

Start your program research by visiting the websites of schools and programs you’re interested in. Speak with admissions counselors to gain specific information or recommendations for each program. To better understand the educational and campus experience, sign up for campus tours, attend virtual or in-person information sessions, and follow the program’s social media channels.

As you research each school, keep accreditation in mind. Accreditation not only offers credibility to the quality of a school, program, and education, but it also helps ensure that students have access to financial aid.

Look for regional accreditation first — credits from these schools and programs can transfer regionally, meaning you’re more likely to be able to transfer credits if you switch schools. Employers often look for accredited education and may be more likely to disregard a candidate with an unaccredited degree. Students can check for accreditation from sources such as the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Prepare for tests and applications

While admissions processes vary by institution, many film studies degrees aren’t direct-entry — rather, you’ll complete a year of generalized studies before declaring a film studies major. As such, initial admissions for undergraduate and graduate programs generally require a combination of the following:

  • Application form and fees
  • Secondary school transcript
  • In-progress undergraduate transcript for transfers
  • Letter(s) of recommendation
  • Personal essay or statement
  • Resume or CV
  • SAT or ACT scores (undergraduate)
  • GRE or GMAT scores (graduate)

Typically, students who wish to declare a film studies major or transfer to the program from another institution must complete prerequisite film studies courses. Depending on the bachelor’s degree program, admissions may require a portfolio of relevant work.

Master’s and doctoral programs generally require a related undergraduate major, a portfolio of work demonstrating scholarly competence, and a GPA of at least 3.0. Applicants may also need to submit a research paper proposal and a writing sample demonstrating their ability to understand and engage with theory and criticism.

Check with the institution’s office of admissions before submitting your application. They can verify eligibility and advise on proper documentation and other important information.

Select your program

When your research is complete, compare your schools and programs to determine which best suits your path. Consider factors such as:

  • Program costs
  • Financial aid availability
  • Location
  • Curriculum
  • Course delivery method

Program delivery logistics are also important. While full-time studies allow you to complete your program more quickly, part-time options may suit those already in the workforce or have other commitments. Online programs can offer accessibility and flexibility, but in-person programs may provide more opportunities to develop your technical and practical skills and interact with your peers and instructors.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Calculate tuition costs and other expenses, and speak with a financial aid advisor of your chosen institution to get specific information. Verify that your chosen program is eligible for financial aid before committing, then submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Regardless of your financial status, applying for FAFSA allows schools to determine need-based federal loans, grants, scholarships, and other financial assistance.

Schools, private organizations, foundations, and other groups sometimes offer student grants, scholarships, and other aid based on merit or other factors. If you’re employed, check with your workplace to see if they offer tuition assistance benefits.

Best 50 Accredited Film Degree Programs

Best Film Degree Programs_2024 badge

University of California at Los Angeles

Ithaca College

Loyola Marymount University

George Mason University

California State University at Sacramento

University of Southern California

University of California at Berkeley

University of California at Riverside

Boston University

University of Utah

University of Arizona

CUNY Brooklyn College

Syracuse University

University of Michigan-Ann Arbor

Stanford University

Emerson College

University of California-Santa Barbara

University at Buffalo

Georgia State University

Taylor University

CUNY Hunter College

Quinnipiac University

Lipscomb University

Chapman University

Purdue University

Rochester Institute of Technology

Central Washington University

Ringling College of Art and Design

Savannah College of Art and Design

Binghamton University

Art Center College of Design

California Institute of the Arts

Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham Campus

Calvin University

University of Kansas

Messiah University

SUNY at Purchase College

University of California, Irvine

Minnesota State University Moorhead

Rhode Island School of Design

Massachusetts College of Art and Design

Pratt Institute

University of California, Santa Cruz

Southern Methodist University

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best film degree programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education.

We evaluated each school’s program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and the resources provided for on-campus students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of film degree programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect From a Film Program?

Undergraduate film programs provide students with a comprehensive foundation of all aspects of filmmaking, including the history and fundamentals of visual media.

Most undergrad programs offer a blend of practical and theoretical coursework, with BS students typically focusing more on technical aspects than BA or BFA programs. These programs offer many elective opportunities, allowing students to enrich their education with interdisciplinary studies. Graduate programs aim to deepen understanding by focusing on theory, analysis, and other aspects that train students to approach media from various critical perspectives.

Film programs are often project-intensive, requiring students to work individually and in groups to ideate and create media to develop their skills. Some programs may require students to complete internships and final projects. Graduate program structures vary, but they typically include core seminar and lecture courses paired with independent research, final media projects, and a thesis.

Potential courses you’ll take in a film program

  • Film History: Courses in film history examine the development of cinema within various international and historical contexts. Students analyze and discuss the significance of screenings from the lens of artistic, social, and political movements.
  • Scriptwriting: Students learn about the film screenwriting process and how to develop plot, character, and narrative structure. Coursework allows students to refine their screenwriting abilities and develop a system for transforming an idea into a final script.
  • Directing: This course provides training and practice in film and documentary directing. Students learn to collaborate with cinematographers, actors, screenwriters, and other roles to tell a visual story using cinematic tools.
  • Producing: Production courses introduce students to how management, business acumen, and creativity work together in a producer role. Topics include marketing, distribution, legal strategies, and production team roles.
  • Cinematography: Students learn to articulate a story visually through lighting, camera systems, and other technical elements. Coursework also gives students practice in storyboarding, lighting aesthetics, and camera operation.

Film Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a film degree program?

Visit the program website to start the application process. Although application and enrollment processes vary by institution, most require a transcript, personal statement, letter of recommendation, resume or CV, and relevant test scores. Check application deadlines so you can organize your application before the cutoff.

Speak to an admissions counselor to clarify any requirements, deadlines, or other details. They can guide you through the process and answer questions.

How much does a film degree cost?

As of 2022, the average yearly tuition and required fees were $14,688 for a bachelor’s degree and $20,513 for a master’s degree. That doesn’t include room and board, which increases the yearly cost for a bachelor’s to $27,673. Scholarships, grants, loans, and other financial aid affect the amount you’ll pay upfront, but these amounts depend on your circumstances.

The program’s cost also depends on whether it’s a private or public institution, if you’re an in-state or out-of-state student, local cost of living, course delivery (in-person vs. online), and other factors. Technology and equipment for film studies can also have additional expenses.

How long does it take to earn a film degree?

The total required credits determine the length of a film degree; undergraduate programs require about 120 credits delivered over four years, and graduate programs require about 60 credits delivered over two years. Some film studies programs require fewer credit hours and focus more on projects, allowing you to self-pace. Part-time studies can also extend the program length by several years.

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